Startling developments in the horse slaughter industry have had the attention of horse lovers everywhere focused on Texas since last October, when animal rights advocates discovered a decades-old Texas state law banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption. This meant that the last two remaining U.S. horse slaughter plants, both located in Texas, had been operating illegally since 1949, when Texas legislators passed a law prohibiting the sale of horsemeat or slaughtering horses for that purpose. Enforcement of the law could mean the closure of the only horse slaughter plants still operating in the United States: Beltex Corporation of Fort Worth and Dallas Crown of Kaufman. Both foreign-owned, the two plants slaughter live horses, process their meat, and ship it to France, Belgium and Japan for human consumption.
Following the revelation that there was such a law on the books, then-Attorney General John Cornyn issued an opinion determining that the two plants were indeed breaking the law. Prosecutors from Tarrant County, where the Beltex plant is located, and Kaufman County, where Dallas Crown is in operation, moved to bring cases against the companies. In November, Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Ann Diamond contacted FoA’s Washington, D.C. office to interview an investigator who has spent 10 years working on the horse slaughter issue. FoA’s investigator was able to provide Ms. Diamond with first-hand accounts of the atrocities that take place behind the closed doors of the Texas plants.
As prosecutors prepared their cases, the owners of Beltex and Dallas Crown were busy searching for a way to keep slaughtering horses. They filed a federal lawsuit to forestall prosecution, and were granted a temporary injunction that has allowed the plants to remain in operation.
Then, in March, activists learned that attorneys for the plants had convinced state Rep. Betty Brown, (R-Terrell), to sponsor a bill that would essentially overturn the state law banning horse slaughter. The bill, H.B. 1324, would have made it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption, but only if the consumption happens in the United States. As all horsemeat from Texas is sold to foreign markets, the bill would have allowed the plants to continue killing thousands of horses every year.
Horse lovers, equine rescues and animal advocacy groups from around the country sprang into action and bombarded the state legislature with letters, phone calls and E-mail messages. Candlelight vigils were held all across the country - from New Jersey to Texas to Hawaii- to draw attention to the issue. FoA faxed letters of opposition to every Texas state representative. In one of the busiest legislative sessions in recent memory, Texas legislators reported being inundated with inquiries about the horse slaughter issue.
Supporters of horse slaughter fought back with spurious arguments against banning horse slaughter, suggesting that thousands of horses would then be exported to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, and conjuring up scenarios of large numbers of unwanted horses being abandoned to starve if their owners did not have the option of selling them for slaughter.
History has shown such arguments to be without merit. No such scenarios unfolded following the 1998 ban on horse slaughter for human consumption in California. And although the total number of horses slaughtered in U.S. plants has steadily decreased from a high of 348,400 in 1989 to 42,000 in 2002, there has been no increase in the number of horses being exported to other countries for slaughter.
In May, HB 1324 died in the Texas senate, and there was celebration. The issue suddenly resurfaced, however, when it was discovered that an amendment that would legalize horse slaughter had rather quietly been tacked onto an unrelated state Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Deuell, (R-Greenville). Once again, activists rallied. In a matter of days Senator Deuell pulled the amendment, commenting in a Houston Chronicle article: “‘I don’t want to consume horsemeat. I just want my bill to go through.’”
The court case that could determine the fate of Beltex and Dallas Crown, and potentially, the entire U.S. horse slaughter industry, is pending. The plants remain in operation under the temporary injunction. Meanwhile, FoA continues to lobby on the federal level for the passage of HR 857, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would prohibit the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption and the trade, transport, import and export of live horses destined for slaughter for human consumption. HR 857 currently has 55 cosponsors.